So Donald Trump, the repellent and bullying frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, canceled a rally in Chicago yesterday after things got testy in a way he didn't care for. That's his prerogative, of course, though accounts vary as to whether the situation was as threatening as the Trump campaign claimed. Things had gotten ugly at a St. Louis event prior to Chicago, but then again, Trump himself has vaguely sanctioned violent reprisals against demonstrators at his events.
"Violence at these events, which may start organically, is in effect spot lit and encouraged to the point where it becomes something that is legitimately out of control of anyone," she explained. "And then the spectacle of political violence is itself seen as something that is a problem that needs to be solved by this strongman character who incited the initial event in the first place."
Yeah, not so much. At the same time that at least some of Trump's followers are cretinous goons, there's an equally problematic counter-dynamic at work as well: The anti-free-speech mentality that's extremely pervasive throughout the American left that is summed by the slogan of a prominent Bernie Sanders supporter who helped organize the anti-Trump show in Chicago: "Everyone, get your tickets to this. We're all going in!!!! ?#?SHUTITDOWN?."
Shut it down! How cool is that? It's just like a college campus, where speakers aren't challenged on unpopular viewpoints but simply disinvited or shouted down to a degree that a thug's veto prevails.
Greg Lukianoff, head honcho at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has articulated that, for some years now, we haven't been debating about the conditions under which free speech might be allowed. Far more troubling, we are instead debating whether the idea of free speech can even be justified anymore. On both the left and the right (which has its own version of political correctness and has rarely been slow to try and stifle voices with which it disagrees), most people are pushing for what Lukianoff says is "freedom from speech."
Public debate, it seems, is no longer a means by which to search for truth, knowledge, and common ground, but only a venue for speech that expresses unthinking solidarity with whatever you already believe.
Trump and his campaign should categorically disown violence among the candidate's followers. And anti-Trumpers need to learn the difference between protesting and eradicating speech in the public square.
In a society that is built upon free speech and free assembly—and in which individuals and groups have never had such abilities to voice their viewpoints—appealing to the worst instincts in people can only end badly. And with even more people evacuating politics as a meaningful avenue for building anything other than greater and greater resentment.